We all start from somewhere. From the hustle and bustle of daily life — stories about self-growth and realisation can often be frequently cathartic and therapeutic. It’s the beauty of art; the power of self-reflection and relatability combined on top of our own interpretations and insight on the art we consume. For Labidi, a broke writer on the verge of a publication breakthrough, life is merely but a series of reflective memories. In the film The World After Us, the breezy Parisian fantasy specifically highlights a brief six months in the life of the young literary hustler. In concept, this premise sounds invigorating and investing on paper. However, Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas’ safe direction unfortunately detracts from the humanity of its tale, that originally aimed for something far more promising.
It’s the hustle of the literary world. As we spiral into the mind and shoes of Labidi and his journey of various occupations, bankruptcies, and relationship goals — the more daunting the structural form becomes. It’s obvious that even with the various hijinks littered throughout The World After Us, there’s a lack of any resemblance of character development or meaningful connections with the supporting cast. There may be a slim chance that this creative decision is purely meant to highlight the narcissism of Labidi’s ego-centric routine. But at the same time, the film lazily handles french-new wave conventions and homage with little to no effect.
The irony about a film that completely centers itself around the world of literary agents and strict deadlines, is that the subject matter and depiction of events at hand would simply worked better in a literary format. Whereas the French-New Wave romanticism slowly becomes grading in a cinematic medium, there’s something staggeringly personal and authentic about auto-fiction that warrants numerous intricacies within the written perspective over visual storytelling. Labidi is our guide amongst the Parisian hellscape. We read his words, his perceptions, his experiences, and his senses. As we witness his plight and search for high cost apartment rentals and insurance scamming, the more evident it becomes that the material would have been far more enthralling in a written format. In a visual medium, part of the magic and intimacy of the power of the written text loses some of its impact. Sure there’s narration, but oftentimes the art of montage is heavily misused in favour of pedantic filler.
It should also be noted that the best scene in The World After Us is also a monologue. A monologue that is read by Labidi — a biting first-person account on individuality, class, and the pressures of social status — as he proofreads a brief manuscript of his newly written text. If that isn’t an indicator of the direction this project should have taken medium-wise, then I don’t know what else I should tell you. As we see the first published copy of Labidi’s fictional book entitled “The World After Us” in the film’s final scene, the more grading and frustrating the realisation becomes of how close we were from receiving this same material in a more appropriate physical form.
Dir: Louda Ben Salah-Cazanas
Runtime: 85 minutes
The World After Us premiered at this year’s 71st Berlinale as part of the Panorama program. The film is currently seeking international distribution.